“Shelter me, oh genius words,” it’s K-tel® Cartel!

Monday, 16 July 2007

Cartel: Bubble Boy

My pangolin walker, Cort Fritz, sent me a link and I didn’t have the good sense to round file it. Now we all suffer. Lemme explain. … No, there is too much. Lemme sum up.

Cartel, a new pop rock band, did a Dr Pepper / MTV marketing stunt wherein they were sequestered in a “bubble” to write music Real World style. For this they were hammered by Bob Lefsetz, an independent critic whose self-described “intense brilliance” has kept pace with his hair line through the years. A man who has deep insights to offer young musicians like–

MAKE IT ABOUT THE MUSIC FIRST! Bob Lefsetz, intensely capitalizing music critic

Mr Lefsetz posted Cartel’s singer/lyricist Will Pugh’s response to his drubbing.

The response is made of powerful sincerity and awareness not usually seen in kids–

…the industry and music for that matter is not one iota comparable to an era such as the 70’s… ever since all those bands became popular and started making labels the juggernauts that they are today it’s been a downward spiral to this point in time…

We will gladly accept all the fans that will have us … They only care what’s coming in their ears and that’s what we’re about.

Fuck selling records … We want people to know that we will write rock songs and ballads and shit you probably haven’t heard before … with no strings and no puppeteers doing the work for us. Listen to the record and decide then what to do with us.

Will Pugh of Cartel

This elevated my soul for a moment. I remembered, to a piloerection, what it felt like to be writing music with a band when I was younger. How badly I wanted it. How sincere I was. How much we all knew we were it and there was nothing but a bunch of posers and music hating A&R guys in the way. The response seemed almost to describe a fictional band from one of my best short stories—It’s Just a Spring Clean for the May Queen.

Eagerly I went and listened to Cartel. I read all their lyrics. I watched videos. Now I will, as Will has asked, decide what to do with them.


I used to write 3 word album reviews for majenta. Let’s see if I still have a flair for it.

Pandering. Emaciated. Déjà snooze.

You know, if you threw a pubescent Green Day as hard as you could at The Offspring and let Lenny Wolf produce the album while they were still too dizzy from the impact to come up with more than one tempo or melody: Cartel!


And you thought it would be impossible to make popular music more forgettable after the 90s.

When is the last you heard of a band that has a top 40 single on the radio that also had a 12 minute finale that went through about 4 different movements and turned 5 different choruses from the previous songs into a medley reprise at the end. If there is such an artist I haven’t heard of them. Will Pugh of Cartel

It’s been awhile but the BBC live version of “Whole Lotta Love” would seem to fit into that Venn. Admittedly it was an edit of the studio version that was on the charts. Maybe Will hasn’t heard of Led Zeppelin though he dropped the name in his response.

Cartel embarrasses me because each band or artist I have called awful, from Ottmar Liebert to The Pixies, is so much better it’s as if music reviews now need to be prefaced with a 2 volume definition of music.


Will talked about Cartel’s indie roots so I think it’s only fair to compare them to another indie band which starts with C and also has six letters: Clutch.

It was difficult to choose a Clutch song by lyrics because 10 came to mind immediately as superlative. Top of class. Shoulder to shoulder with the best Kiedis, Plant, Dylan, Bowie, Amos. So, ignoring many better songs, just taking something new–

Tell me, why Dick Cheney underneath my bed?
Hell no, that ain’t cool!
Tendin’ to the lips of a shrunken head.
No sir, that ain’t cool.
Come on now take one for the team.
Stick it to the man, stick it to the man.
Raise the dagger high above Isaac
drive it down as hard as you can. Mr. Shiny Cadillackness

Go ahead and read the rest. I’ll wait.

Now for Cartel. The following is, I believe, the song Will was boasting about in his mail to Bob.

And you can take this however you want
Yeah you can take this however you want
And don’t be so, so sure this is all it adds up to…you
You’re justified
But there’s no justice if it’s just a lie
No, go and find yourself
You will if you look inside
And I’ll never know
And you never will
Still I’ll never know
And you won’t until someone stands up
Then you’ll get some answers… “A,” Cartel

These do not even read as lyrics. They read as semi-stoned party conversation: “Dude, I’m just saying, and you can take this however you want, don’t be sure it all adds up to you, man. Sure, you’re justified but there’s no justice if it’s just a lie. Ha-ha-ha-ha… That was great. Did you hear that? Go find yourself.”

Not enough? Try these–

Shelter me oh genius words
Just give me strength
Just to pen these things
And give me peace to well her wings
And oh, oh carry on all you minstrels of the world
We will catch our ladies’ ear
We will win for us the girl “The Minstrel’s Prayer,” Cartel


I own a bunch of Malmstein, Vai, Satriani, and various 80s and 90s speed/thrash/prog metal not because they write good songs—almost to a track, they don’t—but because I admire virtuosity even in the face of poor composition. If Cartel had at least that going for them I’d forgive everything. They don’t.

Bands like Cartel who can play a set without screwing up seem as proud as a 2 year old on the toilet. Being able to keep tight with a kit is nothing. Even the monkeys who play Bach that way deserve ridicule. The reason you think your stuff sounds good is the same reason babies think pureéd fruit tastes better. Sweet mush of uncertain origin is easy to make and appeals to an ignorant palate.


Cartel is one of the most forgettable bands musically I’ve ever heard, lacking, as my dead friend Ayn would say, even the positive distinction of ugliness. Lyrically, they would be laughed out of a Junior College poetry class. Technically, they don’t match up to 1/2 the buskers I pass downtown. But ego-wise, look out Oasis!

They have the brass monkey to insinuate that they could be a great band, blazing trails unknown to the industry since Syd Barrett’s solo career; that they are writing great songs which, if only treated fairly!, will bring legions of fans and even win over salty critics like Bob Lefsetz.

My God… Prince wrote the newest page of music history this weekend by putting out an album free with your copy of The Mail on Sunday. Clutch exists at all and has released 15+ albums. Tori Amos can be seen on tour regularly. Worthwhile artists like Puracane, Kyuss, DJ Cam, I Mother Earth, and Kidney Thieves lie half-dead in the marginalia while you are whining about your MTV coverage making you seem like assholes.

When you guys are real estate agents, marketing reps, and practicing the other careers the pawn shop offers in trade for the broken dreams of the mediocre I hope you have the time to try listening to some music. I think you’ll be surprised at how much it can mean.

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Just because you are only paying me for the walking part of my job,...

...doesn't mean you can downgrade my title or hide the fact of what I do for your lizard.

It's "Pholidota Masseur".


By Cort on 16 July 2007 · 17:50

A is A

Re: Just because you are only paying me for the walking part of my job,...

I think I just got served.


By A is A on 16 July 2007 · 18:04